Finding Mojo in an Ivy League University

THE CHALLENGE

The ten-person “team” was not really a team, even though they influenced nearly everything that occurred on the non-academic side of the great university’s ledger. They were really ten silos - proud, testy, self sufficient and relatively successful, acting independently of each other. When jurisdictions were crossed there was competition, not cooperation. The leaders were smart men of good will as long as they were left alone to do their jobs. The boss was more of a coordinator than a leader, and he knew it was not good enough. But, he didn’t know exactly what good enough meant, since he, like most of his colleagues, had never been on a truly trusting, high performing team.

He asked us to help create a real team, to alter the ten individuals from sitting silently, arms crossed listening to information, to a well-oiled team where the “whole” was, indeed, more than the sum of the parts. Where, team members learned from each other and shared wisdom and insights in relation to mutual problems. And, it was a place where performance management was based on both individual performance and the feedback from colleagues, with the outcome of aligning team, individual and university goals.

THE PROCESS

The leader meant what he said. We knew it was not a short-term investment, that it would take time and patience and funding over several years. Trust cannot be mandated, leadership skills are learned by practicing them, and new values and a compelling vision for the division with a focus on the collective would demand a new rigor, if the leader’s vision and that of his team were to be achieved. Over two years there were eight, three-day retreats and the changes in the leadership team were cascaded down into the system of more than 1,200 employees. As predicted, it was not a quick fix.

THE OUTCOME

The Division was given the highest university award for effective management. It became recognized among other universities as a home of best practices. The team institutionalized an entirely new performance management process in which accountability and personal development held equal status. The key to this is that managers are reviewed in depth from all the constituents they impact, including their direct reports. Feedback is seen as a key element of everything they do where, previously, it had been missing in action. 360 feedback has been institutionalized with results being tracked over time and part of every yearly review. Most important for the leaders is that team meant team, with individuals supporting each other and seeking the wisdom of their peers.